The visually stunning Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 at the Imperial Theatre, has improved in many ways from it’s other three incarnations. The set has always been spectacular, but here at the Imperial Theatre, set designer, Mimi Lien, along with the gorgeous lighting by Bradley King have transported us to the Russian Opera. The audience is everywhere including onstage. Runways, make shift bars, staircases, red velvet and stunning starburst chandeliers twinkle as they rise and fall. Even the half-period/half-punk costumes, by Paloma Young, set the tone. I expect all these elements to be Tony nominated, if not win. Rachel Chavkin’s direction is another work of art. Ms. Chavkin moves her players around with such grace and intimacy, the audience is sure to be astounded in it’s opulence. Again I see a Tony nod.
Another plus to this version, is the debut of Josh Groban who sings so superior, it is hard not to be in awe. His rendition of “Dust and Ashes,” is heavenly. Like any of the arias from Les Miz. I expect this song to stand out long after this show. Every time Mr. Groban opened his mouth, it was divine and this is not easy with Dave Malloy’s semi operatic score. More on that later. Mr. Groban plays piano and accordion, besides everything else. Even Mr. Groban’s acting is splendid.
For those who do not know Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812, it is an abridged version of “War and Peace.” Think musical cliffs notes. The opening number, introduces the principals, singing “It’s a complicated Russian novel Everyone’s got nine different names So look it up in your program We’d appreciate it, thanks a lot.” From there we follow Natasha (Denée Benton), who is engaged to the Russian Prince Andrey (Nicholas Belton), who leaves ASAP to fight in the war. She goes to stay with Marya D(A husky and take charge Grace McLean) along with her cousin and confidante, Sonya (played by a wonderfully moving Brittain Ashford). Andrey’s father (also Mr. Belton) and his plain put upon sister Mary (Gelsey Bell) disapprove, which in a way starts the ball moving. Natasha, dazzled by Moscow society, falls for Anatole (the delightful Lucas Steele). Anatole is known for being a womanizer. He gets his sister Hélène (the sexy Amber Gray) to help bring them together. Her cuckold, husband Pierre (Groban) is a friend of Prince Andrey. Anatole’s friend Dolokhov (the highly sexy Nick Choksi), stirs up trouble and in the end Natasha follows her heart to ruin. It isn’t until Pierre shows her kindness that she can smile again.
I was a huge fan of this show in its previous incarnations. What I love about this production is the diction of the actors and the fact you can finally understand the lyrics, which are highly clever. The changes in the book, add more for Pierre. Josh Groban brings the pain and despair of Pierre to light, something Dave Mallory could never do. I see a Tony nod here. Lucas Steele has also grown into his part and deserves a Tony nod.
What is lacking from this production is the force of energy that was Natasha. The role made Phillipa Soo a star, this will not do the same for Denée Benton, who is beautiful, sings well, and can act. What she lacks is star power and why her name is over the title is beyond me. Who would have been a better choice is Solea Pfieffer who does have the “it” factor. I never once cared for the plight of Natasha and that is a problem.
Also this production really shows off Dave Malloy’s score which is high on Slavic folk music, electronica , ballads and descriptive narration, where the characters sing about themselves in first person. Or Matias, who is an amazing music director, does well with the orchestrations, but this is not music that grows on you.
This show falls into the same category of Candide and Mallory is not Bernstein. I do not see Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 making the Tony cut for Best New Musical.
Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812: Imperial Theatre, 252 W. 45th St.
Countdown to Christmas: For The Dancer and Theatre Lover Chita Rivera
2o days to go! Every year people panic to find the perfect gift. We at T2C have been collecting idea’s all year long to bring you the perfect gift guide at all price levels. When you’re at the end of your rope trying to find the perfect Christmas present this year, come to this guide for some great suggestions.
There are a lot of books out there this year but we highly recommend Chita: A Memoir , the critically-acclaimed book is written by the legendary Broadway icon Chita Rivera with arts journalist Patrick Pacheco. Chita takes fans behind-the-scenes of all her shows and cabaret acts, she shares candid stories of her many colleagues, friends, and lovers. She speaks with empathy and hindsight of her deep associations with complicated geniuses like Fosse and Robbins, as well as with the mega-talent Liza Minnelli, with whom she co-starred in The Rink. She openly discusses her affair with Sammy Davis, Jr. as well as her marriage to Tony Mordente and her subsequent off-the-radar relationships. Chita revisits the terrible car accident that threatened to end her career as a dancer forever. Center stage to Chita’s story are John Kander and Fred Ebb, the songwriters and dear friends indelibly tied to her career through some of her most enduring work: Chicago, The Rink, Kiss of the Spider Woman, and The Visit.
Chita’s love of performing began as a child in Washington, D.C., when her mother enrolled her in a local ballet school to channel her boundless energy. Still a teenager, she moved to New York to attend the School of American Ballet after an audition for George Balanchine himself and winning a scholarship. But Broadway beckoned, and by twenty she was appearing in the choruses of Golden Age shows like Guys and Dolls and Can-Can. In the latter, she received special encouragement from its star Gwen Verdon, forging a personal and professional friendship that would help shape her career. The groundbreaking West Side Story brought her into the orbit of Leonard Bernstein, Jerome Robbins, Arthur Laurents, Hal Prince, and Stephen Sondheim. After Bye Bye Birdie further burnished her rising star, she reunited with Verdon and her then-husband Bob Fosse to work on the film version of Sweet Charity and the celebrated original Broadway production of Chicago.
Chita: A Memoir was published in English and Spanish and the English audio version of the Memoir was recorded by Chita. A Spanish audio version is also available.
“Chita Rivera blazed a trail where none existed so the rest of us could see a path forward. She has been part of some of the greatest musicals in the history of the form, from Anita in the trailblazing West Side Story through Claire Zachanassian in the underrated masterpiece The Visit, over 60 years later. She is a Puerto Rican Broadway icon and the original ‘triple threat.’ We’re so lucky to be alive in the same timeline as Chita Rivera.” — Lin-Manuel Miranda.
“A frank and fascinating memoir from one of the truly great artists of the American Theater. Lots of stories … Lots of insight … and quite a few caustic statements from Chita’s alter ego, Dolores. An illuminating history and a guaranteed pleasure!” — John Kander
Broadway legend and national treasure Chita Rivera, multi-Tony Award winner, Kennedy Center honoree, and recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom – has taken no prisoners on stage or screen for seven decades. From her trailblazing performance as the original Anita in West Side Story—for which she tapped her own Puerto Rican roots—to her haunting 2015 star turn in The Visit. Chita has proven to be much more than just a captivating dancer, singer, and actress beloved by audiences and casts alike. In her equally captivating and one-of-a-kind memoir, Written with Patrick Pacheco, the woman born Dolores Conchita Figueroa del Rivero shares an incomparable life, both on stage and behind the curtain.
By the way this Memoir has won a Gold Medal for “Best Autobiography – English” at the 2023 International Latino Book Awards. https://www.latinobookawards.org/
Click here to buy your copy.
Ken Fallin’s Broadway: Spamalot
Here is the amazing cast of Spamalot. Christopher Fitzgerald as Patsy, James Monroe Iglehart as King Arthur, Leslie Rodriguez Kritzer as The Lady of the Lake, Ethan Slater as The Historian/Prince Herbert, Jimmy Smagula as Sir Bedevere, Michael Urie as Sir Robin, Nik Walker as Sir Galahad and Taran Killam as Lancelot.
I was so inspired I drew the whole cast.
To read T2C’s review click here.
Ahead of the Broadway Opening of Lempicka The Longacre Theatre Is Showcasing Art Work By Tamara de Lempicka
The Longacre Theatre (220 W 48th St.), soon-to-be home of the sweeping new musical, Lempicka, is showcasing a curated selection of renowned artist Tamara de Lempicka’s most famous works. Eschewing traditional theatrical front-of-house advertising, the Longacre’s façade now boasts prints, creating a museum-quality exhibition right in the heart of Times Square. The musical opens on Broadway on April 14, 2024 at the same venue.
The Longacre’s outdoor exhibition includes works of Self Portrait (Tamara in a Green Bugatti) (1929), Young Girl in Green (1927), Nu Adossé I (1925), The Red Tunic (1927), The Blue Scarf (1930), The Green Turban (1930), Portrait of Marjorie Ferry (1932), Portrait of Ira P. (1930), Portrait of Romana de la Salle (1928), and Adam and Eve (1932).
Starring Eden Espinosa and directed by Tony Award winner Rachel Chavkin, Lempicka features book, lyrics, and original concept by Carson Kreitzer, book and music by Matt Gould, and choreography by Raja Feather Kelly.
Spanning decades of political and personal turmoil and told through a thrilling, pop-infused score, Lempicka boldly explores the contradictions of a world in crisis, a woman ahead of her era, and an artist whose time has finally come.
Young Girl in Green painted by Tamara de Lempicka (1927). Oil on plywood.